Youth sports: five reasons why parents behave badly

We published a blog a few months ago highlighting the reasons why parents should not instruct from the sidelines at their children’s sports events.

The blog attracted plenty of comments in support of the idea that parents should leave the instructing to the coach.

It is also a fact of life in youth sports that some parents go way too far when it comes to their interactions with coaches, other parents, referees and even opposition players. Abusive language and threatening behaviour can be commonplace in some sports.

Such conduct from the sidelines is not acceptable, make no mistake. But the considerations below may just go some way to explaining why some parents behave the way they do.

1. Parents care

They may have a funny way of showing it sometimes, particularly if it is their own child who is the focus of their criticism, but parents, on the whole, care. They’ve seen their child grow up, they’ve seen them choose the sports they want to progress in, and they’ve done the hard miles when it comes to ferrying them to training and matches. Parents would not be at their child’s events if they did not care. Sometimes this care and dedication can manifest itself in a negative way.

2. Parents get carried away

Watching youth sports of almost any kind is invariably a frenetic, engrossing experience, and when you’re a parent you have an even greater interest. When a parent is so deeply involved in the game and focused on the performance of their child, it can be easy to react negatively to perceived injustices. In the heat of the moment, a poor refereeing decision or an early substitution can be seen as a slight against their child. Of course, this is rarely the case, but when the adrenaline is flowing, reason can go out of the window.

3. Parents want success for their child

Which parent doesn’t want to see their child achieve big things in their chosen sport? Success at youth level can lead to trials, scholarships (depending on the country), and perhaps a shot at professional sport. Even if your child isn’t aiming as high, who doesn’t want to see their child eke out every drop of their potential? Some parents may get angry with a coach if they see their child omitted from the starting line-up, or substituted early. In most cases, they aren’t out to get the coach, but emotions can take over if they feel their child is being ignored or treated unfairly.

4. Parents want to see their child have fun

Most parents understand the correlation between taking part in sports and a child’s overall happiness. Numerous studies have taken place supporting this concept, and the very least to expect from a youth sports event should be that the children are enjoying themselves. Parents want to see their children have fun, and woe betide anyone who gets in the way.

5. Parents want their child to be safe

If you see a parent react adversely to an over-the-top challenge on their child from an opponent, it’s because they don’t want to see their child get hurt. Sport can be dangerous and if a parent feels their child is not receiving adequate protection, they are unlikely to keep their feelings to themselves.

And don’t forget…

Most parents are delighted that a coach, often on a volunteer basis, is taking time out from their weekday evenings and weekends, to coach their child’s team. The same goes for referees. Without the time and dedication of both, organised youth sports would fall by the wayside.

None of the points above justify bad behaviour. But next time you see a parent berating a referee or questioning a coach, you can be pretty sure that it emanates from a deep desire to see their child flourish.

Stewart Coggin on Linkedin
Stewart Coggin
Digital Marketing at Teamer
Stewart has worked in sports media since 2002, initially in journalism and now marketing. After four-and-a-half years on the official Premier League website, he switched to marketing in 2012 with sports coaching providers Green Star Media before moving into the world of 5-a-side football with PlayFootball. He now supports the marketing efforts at Teamer.

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